[OUTLOOK]Fathers and past wrongsThe father of Rudolph Giuliani, the mayor of New York City during the 2001 terrorist attack, was a nameless boxer. An Italian immigrant, he did not learn or accomplish much, but he asked his son never to forget one piece of advice. “When you are hit, calm down,” he said, a principle his father learned from his experience. When terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, Mr. Giuliani instinctively recalled his father’s teaching and coped with the situation promptly without losing his composure in the crisis.
Time magazine chose Mr. Giuliani as “Man of the Year” in 2001. Impressed with his leadership in handling the crisis, Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II knighted him. After the terrorist attacks, Mr. Giuliani’s popularity soared to the extent that New Yorkers talked about revising term limits. He owed all this to his attention to the teaching of his father.
My father was diagnosed with cancer when I was in the third grade of elementary school. After fighting the disease for eight years, he died when I was in my first year of high school. As the youngest of his five children, I had been his companion and, at times, his student for his last eight years. I talked with him while he was confined to his bed instead of studying with a tutor or attending a private education institute. His room was my school.
My father, a refugee from Gangseo, South Pyeongan province, used to tell me stories about his home town, family history and his years of experiences. His young son could not remember or understand all his stories. But the influence of that “father’s school” during the eight years I spent with him was immense in my life. At least, it was an incomparable learning place for the spirit.
There is a Buddhist priest called Wongyeong. His secular name is Park Byeong-sam. He is the son of Park Hun-young, head of the communist movement in the southern half of Korea during the Japanese occupation, and his second wife, Jung Soon-nyeon, born in 1941. He was raised by his grandmother and Lee Soon-geum, the wife of a communist spy-ring leader, Kim Sam-ryong, in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi province, until liberation. He is said to have met his father only six times in the year between liberation and his father’s flight to North Korea in October 1946.
After that, he lived with his father’s elder brother in Jangchung-dong, Seoul, until shortly before the Korean War. When the North Korean spies Kim Sam-ryong and Lee Ju-ha were arrested in March 1950, he and a Buddhist monk mentor wandered around the southern part of the country. After joining up with Lee Hyun-sang’s army in Mount Dukyoo, he lived with partisans for over two years on Mount Jiri until the end of 1952. Moving around temples across the nation, he became a monk in 1960 and is now the head monk of Mangisa Temple in Pyeongtaek.
But the Buddhist priest Wongyeon is not free from the karma of the mundane world. His irresistible sympathy with his father, Park Hun-young, who was criticized as a hard-core communist by one side and as a spy for the United States and a factionist from the other, was his albatross. As a result, even after 40 years as a Buddhist monk, he lives in both the religious and secular worlds: He is gathering material about his father for a book.
Indeed! A father is a fundamental being, inseparable and uncorrectable. Nameless or sick, and regardless of the world’s divided assessment, a father is a father. But now in this land, things that began under the name of cleaning up the past are preposterously disinterring and beheading fathers. The work of cleaning up the past can be found nowhere, and only innocent genealogical tables and graves are being dug up.
The reason why the liquidation of the past has turned into this childish “terrorism in genealogy” is clear. Politics has been arrogant with history. It is said, “Power does not last a decade but history runs like a long river.” In a ferry boat of narrow politics that will not last a decade or even five years, we cannot cross the long river of history that has run for half a century, or a century. A politics humble before history will make the country comfortable.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong